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Wafer-level Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) Micro-Camera


TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Materials/Processes, Sensors

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals, their country of origin, and what tasks each would accomplish in the statement of work in accordance with section 3.5.b.(7) of the solicitation.

OBJECTIVE: Develop manufacturing approaches and sensor configurations for short wave infrared (SWIR) focal plane arrays (FPAs) that significantly reduce the cost of SWIR FPA packaging, optics and integration into micro-systems.

DESCRIPTION: SWIR imaging technology has significant advantages over conventional low light level imaging approaches, providing increased sensitivity and capturing unique target characteristics associated with the SWIR spectral band. SWIR FPAs are sensitive from the visible to short wave infrared with spectral band cutoff at 1.7um, where there is a large ambient signal level due to “night glow.”  In addition to sensitivity advantages, SWIR imaging adds the capability for covert illumination outside the spectral range of conventional low light level devices; the capability to detect hidden and camouflaged targets; and sensitivity to battlefield lasers and target designators.

Widespread military application of these significant system performance advantages requires high quality SWIR FPAs affordable for general use in military systems. Recent improvements in SWIR detector and FPA technology have led to sensors with considerable system advantages. The dark current of shortwave sensitive material, indium gallium arsenide, has been substantially reduced, enhancing the signal-to-noise and increasing the operating temperature, ultimately with the potential for room temperature operation. Likewise, the noise of the readout integrated circuit has been reduced without sacrifice of dynamic range.

Transition of these substantial performance improvements into affordable systems will establish digital low light level imaging for military systems. Successful transition of SWIR FPAs can be facilitated by a substantial reduction in the cost of SWIR imaging sensors. New sensor configurations and innovative system designs are needed to capitalize on the recent advances in material and device technology and establish an affordable SWIR camera technology. In current manufacturing approaches, SWIR FPAs are individual packaged and integrated with optics. A wafer scale approach for die packaging and optics integration would significantly reduce sensor cost. New sensor concepts are also needed to achieve large format arrays, providing large field of view, with high resolution focused on critical areas of interest in the scene. These design innovations and low cost manufacturing approaches could also lead to micro-cameras with significant reduction in camera size and open new applications in helmet mounted systems and sensors for micro-air and ground vehicles.

PHASE I:  Investigate packaging and optics integration for short wave infrared focal plane arrays to include assessment of materials and manufacturing approaches amendable to the manufacture of wafer level camera; Determine optimum array format and pixel size for imaging at a target identification range of 100 to 1,000 meters with minimum of horizontal field of view of forty (40) degrees; Assess the potential to produce a large format SWIR imager with size less than 20 cm3. Perform thermal, mechanical, optical analysis of encapsulation and optical materials to assess compatibility with SWIR FPA manufacturing.

PHASE II:  Demonstrate with a small format SWIR array the design developed in Phase I, leading toward a wide field of view SWIR camera. The design shall demonstrate the potential for 10X cost reduction relative to current camera cost, and the potential for the overall volume reduction.

PHASE III: SWIR cameras currently have military and commercial applications, both benefiting from the cost and size reduction associated with wafer level focal plane arrays. Commercial applications include homeland security, industrial process control, and biomedical applications. Military applications are focused on night imaging for a wide range of areas, including both man-portable systems and micro air and ground vehicles. The contractor shall fabricate the wide field o f view SWIR camera and show volume and size reduction relative to state of the art SWIR cameras. The camera shall demonstrate imaging over a minimum forty (40) degree horizontal field of view with target identification range for tactical applications. The contractor shall demonstrate the potential for 10X cost camera cost reduction, while maintaining performance for man-portable applications, such as helmet mounted and rifle sight applications.

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